Kim Jong-eun on Tuesday called for an end to confrontation with South Korea  and stressed the importance of economic development, in the first televised new  year address by a North Korean leader in 19 years.

The unusual move was the first such address since the death of the country’s  founder Kim Il-sung in 1994 and indicates a shift in the state’s stance toward  inter-Korean relations and economic reform.

 Kim Il-sung’s son and successor, Kim Jong-il, rarely spoke in public. During  Kim Jong-il’s reign, state newspaper editorials usually delivered the country’s  policy agenda.

“An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and  achieving its reunification is to remove confrontations between the north and  the south,” said Kim Jong-eun, who took over North Korea following the death of  Kim Jong-il in 2011. “The past records of inter-Korean relations show that  confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war.”

The comments came after North Korea ratcheted up tension in the region with  its successful launch  of a long-range rocket last month. Since then, South Korea has elected Park  Geun-hye as  its new leader, who has promised to engage North Korea and boost aid to the  impoverished neighbour.

Inter-Korean relations have been strained in recent years. Seoul’s outgoing  president, Lee Myung-bak, took a hardline policy and cut aid to the North, which  responded by sinking a South Korean warship and shelling a South Korean island  in 2010, killing dozens of people.

The incoming President Park, who will take office in late February, has  called for dialogue and engagement with the North, but she has also demanded  that Pyongyang give up its nuclear programmes.

In the New Year address, North Korea’s young leader called for his country to  focus on economic development with the same urgency put into its rocket  programme. The country “should wage an all-out struggle this year to effect a  turnround in building an economic giant and improving the people’s standard of  living,” Mr Kim said.

Cheong Seong-chang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, a South Korean  think-tank, said North Korea was likely to turn its attention to economic  development now that it  has more confidence in its security after its recent missile launch and past  nuclear tests.

“There are growing signs that North Korea’s focus will shift from military to  economic development,” he said, noting that Mr Kim in his New Year’s address  made no mention of the country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and focused more on  economic improvement than military power. “In order to revitalise its economy,  North Korea is feeling the need of improving relations with South Korea more  than ever.”

But Mr Cheong did not rule out the possibility that North Korea could return  to its strategy of brinkmanship and possibly carry out a third nuclear test if  it struggles to improve external relations.

South Korean officials are worried about the possibility of another nuclear  test as recent analysis of the North’s main nuclear test site indicates  readiness for a third atomic explosion.

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